October 10, 2014

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The "Taipei Moon Bridge" viral photo demystified

I want to highlight two phenomena today, that always occur when Taiwan tops some random list on an English language website. The first thing that usually happens is Taiwanese media picks it up, translates it into Chinese, and the stuff gets viral in Taiwan, usually on social media first, and later also on TV. Then Taiwanese netizens go to that site and start to comment, often also in Chinese. That's partly because Taiwanese are generally lacking recognition in the world due to the tricky international standing, and the obstructions by the neighboring bully China, so there is a yearning to be recognized and appreciated as a nation, especially with the younger generation. And the second thing I want to highlight is how often stuff about Taiwan gets viral, that may not accurately reflect the reality of the country, because people abroad simply don't know Taiwan that well, but they do have some wrong ideas. Usually it's some obscure random stuff with little substance labeled under "whacky East Asia", which leads to further cliches about Taiwan (and that's a topic for a completely new post).

Apple Daily usually starts it

Screen grab from Apple Daily. Their FB post generated over 16,000 likes by now.

So this is what happened today: Taiwan's number one tabloid Apple Daily reposted and translated parts of a user generated post on Bored Panda titled "20+ Mystical Bridges That Will Take You To Another World", because an image of an arch bridge in Taipei's Neihu District landed on the list. The linked post on their Facebook page reached a massive virality by now (over 16,000 likes, and over 800 reshares), which must have caused huge traffic spikes on Bored Panda. Taiwanese netizens have been upvoting this image for a while now, so it became "no 1 mystical bridge in the world" on that list (when I checked it earlier today, it was second). That's not really something to be proud of, to be honest.

Sorry, but the Taipei Moon Bridge is not mystical

The Taipei Moon Bridge (encircled in red) is by now the most popular mystical bridge on that list. See the image in full scale.

The funny thing is, that this seemingly mystical image already went viral 2 years ago, when the British tabloid The Daily Mail and some other European tabloids reposted some of these images (which were taken from a Taiwanese photographer's Flickr photo set), and wrote following fluff:

Morning mist hangs in the calm, still air adding to the dream-like magic of this tranquil setting in Taiwan. The crystal clear water allows for a perfect reflection of an upside down world, almost playing tricks on the mind. With scenery like this, it is no wonder that Taiwan was formerly known as the Beautiful Island - Ilha Formosa - to the West.

After I read this article two years ago, I decided to pay Neihu a visit with my DLSR, and see the Moon Bridge with my own eyes. While the bridge and the surrounding lake are quite pleasant, it doesn't feel as mystical as the images would let you believe. That's because they were photoshopped (the "playing tricks on the mind" part was correct). Those who live in Taiwan would know, that there is usually no morning mist in Taipei when the sun is up that high. It must have been at least 10-11 AM when the viral photo was taken, which means it can should've been really hot already, any kind of early morning mist would've evaporated long time ago. Don't misunderstand me, I love the image, and the Photoshop effect is awesome, but unfortunately people outside Taiwan believe this photo represents an authentic reality. It does not. Here's how the Moon Bridge looks like on my photos when I visited Neihu in May 2012:

A view from afar.

The Taipei Moon Bridge.

A side view.

The Taipei MRT brown line to Nangang is passing by here.

The bridge is not always easy to see. Can you spot it?

The Dahu Park is really nice, though.

This is a residential neighborhood behind the lake.

History of the Taipei Moon Bridge

Taipei's Moon Bridge, as it's named in English by the local government, is called 錦帶橋 in Chinese, which is actually the name of a famous wooden arch bridge in Iwakuni, Japan - the Kintai Bridge. That bridge dates back to 1673, and is considered one of Japan's national treasures (source). The design of the Taipei Moon Bridge however looks very similar to a lot of arch bridges (拱橋) found in China, most notably the Jade Belt Bridge 玉帶橋 at the Summer Palace in Beijing, that dates back to 1736 (source). The Dahu Park as it looks like today was built between 1979 and 1983, and was designed as a classical Chinese garden (source). So to sum everything up: The photoshopped Moon Bridge is actually not older than 25 years. It has the same name as a famous old bridge in Japan, and the same design as a famous old bridge in China. I think Sanxiantai would be a better choice for the list.

Kintai bridge.jpg
"Kintai bridge" by pastaitaken. Licensed under CC BY 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons.
Gaoliang Bridge.JPG
"Jade Belt Bridge". Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons.
A side shot of the Taipei Moon Bridge for comparison.

October 9, 2014

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The Kuomintang PSY

As it turns out, the Kuomintang, Taiwan's current ruling party, has a candidate competing in local elections for the city council in Zhonghe District named Chiu Feng-yao (邱烽堯), that looks a little bit like the Korean singing sensation PSY. While the similarity seems to be coincidental, his campaign is definitely trying to take advantage of it. The top down slogan in red says: "打造快樂新北市" ("Develop happy New Taipei City"). The slogan in the blue bubble next to the PSY caricature says: "一起跳躍" ("Let's jump together").

"Zhonghe style" is not quite like "Gangnam Style".

It's unclear at this point what Chiu's policies of "jumping together" and "developing happy New Taipei City mean", but if we judge it by the policies of his father Chiu Chui-yi (邱垂益), the current mayor of Zhonghe, then there's not much to look forward to. Zhonghe is one of the noisiest, most crowded, and most polluted parts of Greater Taipei, and probably all of Taiwan. Apart from a few new metro stations, and lots of new high-rise apartment blocks randomly shooting out everywhere (with most apartments being empty), nothing much has changed in recent years. Zhonghe is usually voting Kuomintang, there are a lot of old party loyal soldier communities found all over the district. There is no such thing as "Yes We Can!" in Zhonghe, people vote for continuity, and that's why it looks the way it does.

PSY is not amused

I reached out to PSY via phone call, and he told me "he was not amused" after I mailed him the controversial image. He further stated "that his globally recognized caricature was misused for political means by the Kuomintang", and that "he has never worn a T-shirt with Kuomintang party logo", and that the popular chatting app LINE "paid thousands of Wons" for the stickers with his image, so they "will not let Mr. Chiu's campaign team get away without paying royalties, possibly worth thousands of Wons" unless the banner is retracted, and an official apology is aired on Korean national TV by Mr. Chiu's father. He also said that "he supported Mr. Ma's peace initiative in the South China Sea", and that "he was tolerant of various lifestyles". I was not able to get a response from Mr. Chiu, or his campaign staff, but you can send him an email here for further clarifications.

"Why did the Kuomintang not pay any royalties for using my star allure and the LINE sticker!" the real PSY replied while waiting for the official apology.

October 4, 2014


Alarming: Taiwan records highest foreign tourist arrivals growth worldwide

"Taiwan records highest foreign tourist arrivals growth worldwide" - An article with this title is circling around Taiwan's online media and social networks today, and portrayed as something Taiwan should be proud of. Whenever Taiwan tops an international list, the media immediately starts a virtual pride parade. Initially published by Focus Taiwan (the English version of the CNA a.k.a. Central News Agency), the article came without any source link, which is always a little suspicious to me. I decided to dig around, and see what is behind this story. First of all, the story originated from UNWTO (United Nations World Tourist Organisation), a press release titled "International tourism up by 5% in the first half of the year" can be found here. Most of the data from that press release is taken from the "UNWTO World Tourism Barometer" [PDF], which is a summary of a more detailed data that highlights tourism trends by country. That statistic is behind a paywall, and includes detailed data on Taiwan, and other countries for first half of 2014. For some reason Focus Taiwan has access to that information, however I was unable to obtain this file, so in fact I can't verify Focus Taiwan's numbers, but I do trust that they are true.

Why these numbers are bad for Taiwan

While I'd love to have the original file at hand and offer a deeper analysis, it's not necessary to figure out that something is not right here. Let's see this paragraph:

"In a report, the UNWTO said that foreign tourist arrivals in Taiwan for the first six months of the year rose 26.7 percent from a year earlier, topping Japan's 26.4 year-on-year percent increase, which was the second largest in the world."

So YoY (year over year) growth of foreign tourist arrivals in Taiwan was the largest in the world. Some may think: "Yay! Taiwan is so great, no other country in the world is welcoming foreign tourists at a faster pace than Taiwan in the first half of the year." However, this is only one half of the story. The next paragraph exposes the main problem:

"The UNWTO report also showed that Taiwan's international tourism revenue for the first half of the year rose 18.5 percent from a year earlier, behind only Japan with a 27.5 percent increase and South Korea with a 25.2 percent rise, in the world's rankings."

So while the number of arrivals to Taiwan grew 26.7%, the tourism revenue only grew 18.5%. This means the actual spending of these tourists dropped on average (while the opposite has happened in Japan and South Korea), and that is definitely nothing to be proud of, because we're basically getting more and more people into the country, but they keep spending less and less. And it seems that the growth will not stop any time soon, as the article further indicates:

Liu [head of Taiwan's Tourism Bureau] said the bureau will continue to promote Taiwan's beautiful scenery and rich culture to potential foreign visitors this year, and is confident of attracting 9.5 million foreign tourists for the whole year, up from some 8 million in 2013.

And what does Taiwan's government think about the record growth of mass tourism, the declining spending, and all the negative impacts that go with it? We get the answer to that at the end of the article:

Meanwhile, Vice President Wu Den-yih said he expects Taiwan's foreign tourist arrivals to top 10 million in 2015, in light of the current tourism data and the government's promotion campaigns.

Great! The government's answer is more tourists.

While we don't have UNWTO's H1 2014 stats publicly available, you can check their numbers for 2013. And yes, Taiwan is listed as Province of China.

Who are these tourists?

If you live in Taiwan like me, you don't need to be a scientist to realize that the biggest part of these record numbers consist of tourists from China, it's obvious almost everywhere you go. The latest government numbers for January to July 2014 confirm that:

A total of 5,630,085 visitors arrived in the Republic of China from July through July this year, up 1,189,347 or 26.78% from the 4,440,738 in the same period last year.

These are some staggering numbers. Let's see what were the top 5 countries of arrival:

1. Mainland China accounted for 2,305,638 or 40.95% of the total, up 38.41%, consisting of 22,140 foreign visitors, up 6.63%, and 2,283,498 Overseas Chinese, up 38.81%.

2. Japan accounted for 900,682 or 16% of the total, up 18.39%, consisting of 900,043 foreign visitors, up 18.43%, and 639 Overseas Chinese, down 19.72%.

3. Hong Kong and Macao, 792,318 or 14.07%, up 18.93%, consisting of 69,225 foreign visitors up 2.17%, and 723,093 Overseas Chinese, up 20.83%.

4. U.S.A., 264,801 or 4.7%, up 12.28%, consisting of 262,708 foreign visitors, up 12.49%, and 2,093 Overseas Chinese, down 9.16%.

5. Southeast Asia, 764,962 or 13.59%, up 17.14%, consisting of 760,146 foreign visitors, up 17.32%, and 4,816 Overseas Chinese, down 5.92%.

As you can see, visitors from the neighboring PRC a.k.a China (including Macau and Hong Kong SAR) contributed over 55% of foreign arrivals. You can imagine that such dependency on mass tourism from one country is not healthy in the long run, what's more, China is the biggest threat to Taiwan's peace and security, which adds a whole different dimension to the issue. To be fair, arrivals from almost every country are growing, but those from China are overshadowing every one of them.

Taiwan's government has a strange obsession with dividing people into "Overseas Chinese" and "Foreigners" (source, 2013). No idea what is this good for.

Mainlandization has already begun in Taiwan

Mark O'Neill's article "Mainlandization: How Hong Kong and Taiwan are coping" from August (which I highly recommend) seems to be a very good read in the wake of the recent Occupy Central movement. He sums up the biggest issue very well:

The situation is similar in the two places. In the first half of this year, 21.82 million mainlanders visited Hong Kong, an increase of 16 percent year on year, accounting for 77 per cent of all tourists.

In the first five months of the year, 1.65 million mainlanders visited Taiwan, up 38 percent and accounting for 41 percent of all visitors. Taiwan imposes a ceiling of 5,000 a day on mainlanders who come in groups.

Because Hong Kong is smaller and the number so much higher, the impact is greater. The debate in both places is fierce, the arguments are the same.

Hong Kong is unfortunately the best indicator of what kind of future awaits Taiwan, if it allows more Chinese tourists into the country. Tourism and politics are not that far from each other when it comes to Taiwan and China, things we have never imagined are already happening in Taiwan, and I think it's about to get worse. I'm all for Chinese tourists coming to Taiwan, I welcome the exchange, especially with those who don't come in groups and have a general interest to discover the country's treasures, but there has to be a balance. Chasing high arrival numbers for the sake of hitting milestones is very backward. Taiwan should focus on increased spending per person, not increased influx numbers, why can't the government put efforts in developing the premium segment, instead of focusing on the masses?

This is Chinese mass tourism on Alishan, one of Taiwan's most scenic mountains.

Related: Difference between Chinese and Taiwanese tourists.

September 14, 2014


Ma: DPP is democracy's biggest crisis

Taiwan's highly unpopular President Ma Ying-jeou had a speech at Kuomintang's 19th Plenary Session in Chiayi today. Apple Daily reported on some key moments from his speech. This is what he said among other things:

"Minority is bullying majority"

"DPP is democracy's biggest crisis"

"it's the biggest crisis of Taiwan's current democracy."

"Please stop the violence, internal friction's scorching earth style fight, return democracy to the right path, use civilized way to convince people."

"Chinese Kuomintang is for Taiwanese the best option."

It's amazing how distant this president is from its people, and the reality most of them see. It's going to be a long long two years until the next presidential election.

August 23, 2014

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Taiwan Explorer among top Taiwan centric Facebook pages, Taiwanreporter number one

I've recently discovered that Facebook offers page administrators a way to monitor other Facebook pages, such as their number of total likes, new likes per week, and the weekly engagement (which consists of likes, comments and shares for the past 7 days). The statistics nerd that I am, I started to monitor other pages around a month ago. It took me a while, but I think I've compiled a list of more or less all English language Facebook Pages that are sharing things related to Taiwan. I only focused on following kinds of pages: Pages of personal blogs, personal websites, non-profit organizations, and news media. I did not add pages of companies, products, commercial websites, or celebrities, my main focus was on those who genuinely like to share interesting articles, photos, information, or opinions related to Taiwan, and the events that are taking place inside the country, and in the wider region. In this post you will get a better understanding of which Taiwan centric English language Facebook pages are right now most engaging, and therefore perhaps most interesting to follow. You will also get to know where Taiwan Explorer Page stands among them right now.

The complete list

Let's first look at my list like it's presented in Facebook's Insights. I might have missed a page or two (and I apologize in advance for that), but I think I have found at least 90% of all Taiwan centric pages. The main criteria used by Facebook is the number of likes, however for me this is not the most important aspect of s successful page. It's definitely important, but it can also be deceiving. Nevertheless, below is the complete list of the pages I have found. The data is from the period Aug 17. 2014 - Aug 23. 2014, they are sorted automatically by Facebook (for your reference, I am number 33):

As you can see, a lot of pages, especially at the bottom of the list, are either dead (such as The NH Bushman), or update very rarely (such as En Route To Fluency). Both blogs however are updating regularly, which shows where the authors place their priority. A Facebook page is not everybody's thing. I see a lot of Taiwan bloggers on Twitter and Instagram, some are also on Tumblr and Pinterest, but may not have a Facebook page. On the other hand there are pages at the top of the list that show very low engagement such as the Sunflower Movement 太陽花學 and Taiwan Voice, however that's because they update at irregular intervals. This means when they do update, they often have a very high engagement level in that period. So take this list with a grain of salt, and double check an individual page to see the activity in a longer period than just the previous week. I believe however that a Facebook page needs regular care and updates, so if you want to have high engagement, updating a few times per day is a must to maintain a certain level and grow. I'm speaking from my own experience, and I believe it's common to all pages on the list that have an active and expanding follower base.

The most engaging page is Taiwanreporter

I personally believe that engagement always trumps the sheer number of page likes. A lot of people "like" a page, but don't actively follow afterwards. So as of right now, this is the actual current top 5 of Taiwan centric English language Facebook pages:

So what is Taiwanreporter's secret? Since I'm following his page more or less from the start, I think I might have some ideas:

- He updates daily, but not to much, just a right amount (5 to maximum 10 posts)
- He shares interesting stuff from politics, to travel, to every day life. Sometimes he reports live.
- Some of his posts are in German, some in English, which widens the audience
- He grew a big base of Taiwanese followers (who live in Taiwan and overseas)
- He's the main information source for Germans in Taiwan (and Taiwanese in Germany)
- He found the right balance between keeping the site classy, and allowing good discussions
- He's a one person page, he's authentic, and easy to relate to (as opposed to an organization)
- He uses his blog and other social media (Twitter, Vine) to generate content, and lure in new followers

Taiwanreporter and my own page are the only two on the list that are created and managed by one person, Focus Taiwan page is managed by Taiwan's Central News Agency (CNA), TaiwaneseAmerican.org and American Citizens for Taiwan are pages based in the US and representing two overseas organizations.

Three different metrics

I decided to take a closer look only at those pages that have the most engagement, and not most page likes. I got a top 20 this way, all the pages with low or no engagement are therefore not part of this list. Then I sorted them in 3 different ways:

Active pages sorted by the number of page likes

When it comes to page likes, nobody is even close to Explore Traveler. I have no idea how this page garnered so many likes, but the engagement level is extremely low compared to that number, which leaves a big invisible question mark above my head.

Active pages sorted by the number of engagement

This is once again for me the most important indicator that a page is really doing well, and Taiwanreporter is by far topping the list. And he's maintaining such high level for several weeks (perhaps months). It's pretty steady, and seem to be growing based on my irregular checking of Facebook's insights. My page is doing very well lately, the engagement is really growing rapidly, and I too am able to maintain such level for several weeks now (a big spike of followers and engagement occured when I started to report on the Sunflower Movement).

Active pages sorted by the ratio of engagement vs. page likes

This last metric is kind of interesting. I divided the engagement number with the total number of page likes. The higher the percentage, the more active is the follower base of a page. Everything below 5% is low, it indicates that the page is perhaps stagnating. Between 5-15% it's a good engagement level, everything above is extremely good, and might be caused by an unusual spike. I'm pretty sure that I can't keep my current high level for too long, I will probably fall significantly very soon (if I could maintain over 20% for a longer period of time like Taiwanreporter, that would be a big achievement).

How I grew my Facebook page

I started to pay attention to pages when Facebook added the Timeline feature in March 2012. Initially it was used for linking to my blog, nothing more. It had low engagement, and just few likes. At some point, though, I realized that in order to get more readers for my blog, I have to find ways to increase engagement on social media, and Facebook (together with Instagram) were my first priority. I decided to expand my sharing on the page to photos and interesting links, and the followers started to grow quickly in 2013. At the end of the year I decided to rebrand myself and became "Taiwan Explorer",  I had to create a completely new page in order to be able to get the new name. This meant that I went from nearly 1000 followers to 0, and had to work myself up again. It was hard in the beginning, but after reaching around 500 likes, the engagement became almost the same as on the old page, and the growth of weekly likes became steady. At the same time I have also perfected the way I find interesting and unique content related to Taiwan, and I think I found my niche, that separates me from other Taiwan centric pages. But as the followers and the engagement grow, so does the stress level. Sometimes I miss the old times when it was a little bit more peaceful in the comment threads. Now I have lots of people who follow me for a year or two, and they instantly get my irony or sarcasm, and those new ones, who are still sometimes struggling to get my funny side. All in all I hope for a slow growth of new followers, and a steady engagement level. Generally I'm enjoying the comments and reactions, and because of the excellent mobile app, I'm more or less connected to my page all the time. If I'm not too busy, I often reply on the go (however lately I'm quite busy, so I'm not that interactive). I'd like to thank all those of you who enjoy following my updates. This is still my hobby, I've no ulterior motives to monetize anything I do on social media or my blog, I just want to keep it fun for myself and all of you. Hopefully for a long time.

Links to top 20 Taiwan centric Facebook pages

TaiwanreporterTaiwanese AmericanFocus TaiwanTaiwan ExplorerAmerican Citizens for TaiwanTravel in TaiwanExplore TravelerTaipei TrendsThinking TaiwanFormosan Association For Public AffairsForward Taiwan 。 向前台灣Waeguk TomRound Taiwan RoundTaiwan VoiceTaiwan CornerLove, DadaochengHacking ChineseKetagalan MediaMata TaiwanTaipei 543